2018 Trip To Crestone
Posted by Xiaojuan Shu on May 14, 2018
----- Mu Deng
Recently, we visited Crestone, a “spiritual vortex” in Colorado, with a group of Chan practitioners from China. How incredible it was to be exposed to such concentrated wisdom in a small mountain town with a population of less than 150! Being immersed in the true harmony among different world religions, spiritual practices, and conscious organizations was truly a treasurable rare experience! How profound it was to receive Chinese Chan teaching while absorbing teachings from all the wisdom traditions that we encountered! May such a vibrant and open-hearted spiritual community continue to evolve to its full potential for generations to come.
The Crestone Prophecy
Crestone is situated in the northern part of the San Luis Valley, a sacred land of natural harmony, where no colonial nor tribal conflicts have shed blood in the past. Native Americans called it the Bloodless Valley, which is also a “cultural crossroads” and “where the light comes into the world.” It drew many prehistoric Native American groups to come, primarily for healing ceremonies, vision questing, hunting, collection of food and medicines, and rights of passage for Native American youth.
In the 1960’s, Glen Anderson, a local mystic, whom some called the modern day Prophet, predicted that a foreigner from overseas would come and create a new high vibrational interfaith community—a refuge for all the world spiritual traditions with direct lineages; several off-the-grid communities would be created with an emphasis on the highest level of spiritual and cultural development; the main purpose of creating such community would be to bring forth a new civilization of humanity that is in harmony with themselves, each other, and Nature; and thousands of children would seek refuge there.
In 1977, Maurice Strong, the founding Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), and his Denmark-born wife, Hanne Strong, purchased a large tract of land in the Crestone area. In October 1978, when Hanne Strong arrived and settled in their ranch, Glen Anderson knocked at her door and said, “I have been waiting for you to arrive.” He revealed to Hanne that she would be the one who would manifest the vision of bringing different world wisdom traditions and religions to Crestone to “help bring forth a new civilization of evolved human beings,” and Crestone would be known to the world for its interfaith community and its commitment to education, environmental protection, and spiritual pursuits.
Shortly after meeting Glen, Hanne retreated to the mountains for a four-day-and-four-night vision quest and knew in her heart that Crestone would become the “Refuge for World Truths.” Before she moved forward with this vision, Hanne consulted the indigenous elders of the Hopi Nation, whose roots in the San Luis Valley could date back to thousands of years ago, and received the affirmation from the elders.
The Strongs decided to donate some of their land to world religious and spiritual lineages that agreed to establish centers in Crestone. To coordinate the program, they founded the Manitou Foundation. Today’s Crestone harbors an amazing array of spiritual sites: ashrams, monasteries, temples, retreat centers, stupas, labyrinths, medicine wheels, sweat lodges, and other sacred landmarks. There’s even a ziggurat, a structure modeled after the temples of ancient Babylon. Over the last four decades, many Native American medicine people have returned to this land for ceremonies and recognized the valley as a place of high spiritual significance and potency for transformation.
Below I'd introduce a few noble souls and centers that we visited in Crestone.
The Strongs--The Founding Family
In 2013, late Maurice Strong spoke at the Asia Education Forum General Conference and Ecological Education and Sustainable Development Forum in Chengdu, China, “We are the first generation ever to have the responsibility for our own future. What we do, or fail to do, will determine the future of life on Earth. This requires unprecedented levels of cooperation both within and amongst nations.” He also pointed out that “the healthiest and more sustainable natural ecological systems are those which maintain the highest degree of diversity and variety,” and it requires us to make fundamental changes in our educational economic system and “resist the temptation merely to patch up the existing system” that leads to its crisis.
As we gathered around Ms. Hanne Strong at her home, her deep longing for having indigenous Grandmas to come to the land to heal wounds and share wisdom, her passion for bringing ecological awareness to more and more young people, and her concerns for the future of humanity moved us to tears, and yet, her cheerful nature and laughter brightened up our spirit and inspired us to work together toward an awakened future.
James O’Dea--The Conscious Activist
James O’Dea is a former President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Washington office director of Amnesty International and CEO of the Seva Foundation. Among many other noble services that he offered to the world, he has taught peace-building to students in 30 countries and conducted frontline social healing dialogues around the world.
In his Crestone home, James first brought our awareness to the four levels of Heart: Thinking Heart, Feeling Heart, Inspired Heart, and Illuminated Heart. He then shared with us the story that set the tone of the bittersweetness of his life. He was conceived several days before his 11-year-old sister died, and his mother found out that she was pregnant with a new baby while losing a child. After witnessing tremendous unspeakably cruel human-caused sufferings, the question that he had been waiting to be asked all his life until that point was delivered to him on a seemingly aimless outing in Bolinas, a hidden coast town north of San Francisco Bay, “How do we integrate spirituality with activism?” His lifelong search on this topic is captured in his book, The Conscious Activist, where activism meets mysticism.
At the end, James shared his soul-awakening prayer, and we repeated after him in both English and Mandarin Chinese:
Soul Awakening, Heart Opening, Light Shining, Love Flowing, Wound Dissolving, Peace Radiating.
As the high souls from the East and the West spoke the shared vision, the room was filled with timeless stillness....
William Howell--Camino de Crestone
William Howell, bedsides his role as our spiritual tour guide in Crestone, is a poet and author, retreat master, and meditation teacher, who immersed himself in world's great wisdom traditions for 40+ years. Inspired by Camino de Santiago that he and his wife, Brahmi, walked, they founded Camino de Crestone pilgrimage, which is offered in the spirit of religious unity and diversity. This year, William has handed over the torch of Camino de Crestone to his successors, as he and Brahmi are ready for their next soul calling. A while ago, they have also let go of the form of Sanctuary House that they founded 26 years ago, but kept their heart open for whomever hears the call to find them. The tour he led in Crestone was of profound quality due to his deep connections in the Crestone spiritual community.
During our tour, William was often seen standing outside to hold the door for us, and always the last one to go to the buffet line at meal times. He truly cared about each of us and took all the time to explain to us the history and the stories of Crestone. When he looked at you, he took you in completely, making you feel that you were the only one that mattered to him at that moment in the entire world. Whenever he was moved by Truth, tears would instantly fill up his eyes. To me, he is someone who has long ago given himself to the Service on the Path of Awakening.
He seemed ageless. In his 70s, he is still a playful child at heart. While approaching the Dome at Crestone Mountain Zen Center at dusk, he was crouching, running, hiding.... as if the Dome were a fort occupied by an opposing force. We all laughed hard and mimicked him. Inside the Dome, as suggested by a sound healer among us, we formed a spontaneous humming/singing circle, and William was the first to contribute to our collective chorus with his clear and deep voice.
Haidakhandi Universal Ashram and Ramloti
During our short stay in Crestone, we stayed and ate most of our meals at Haidakhandi Universal Ashram (HUA)--a Babaji ashram. This ashram is an off-the-grid center, solar-powered, with their own water system.
Babaji became known to the West through Paramahansa Yogananda's book--Autobiography of a Yogi, from reading which our gracious host Ramloti instantly became a devotee of Babaji in the early 1980s. Disregarding all the obstacles in her life, Ramloti went to visit Babaji in India several times before He left His body in 1984. Shri Babaji instructed people to live in truth, simplicity and love, and Karma yoga - work dedicated to God - is the best, easiest, and fastest way to God.
During one dinner at the Ashram, Ramloti shared with us the story of visiting Babaji with her two young sons. As she and her sons were near Babaji's ashram, Babaji sent a person to greet them. How did Babaji know they were coming! Ramloti wondered. When they arrived, Babaji handed her and her sons each one cup of Indian tea that he made. Ramloti was convinced that Babaji must have mistaken her for someone important. :) In the past, she had worked hard to impress people and to cover up her fear inside. Whenever someone complimented her, she would tell herself, if they knew who she really was, they would not think highly of her, because she was not good inside. It was not until much later in her life did she experience that everyone is worthy of divine love and she is loved by the Divine Mother at every moment.
In the Ashram temple, the residents change the outfit for the Divine Mother statue every morning, and the practitioners and visitors arise early for spiritual practices, meditation, and Aarati (a sung worship service). They respond to all deities' names with "Jai!" At meal time, when Ramloti gave meal offering to all the deities, we all cheerfully raised our hands and responded "Jai!"
Other Visited Spiritual Centers, Organizations, and Artists
The Spiritual Life Institute is a Roman Catholic community with roots in the Carmelite contemplative tradition. “Be still and know that I am God” They aspire to create a vital environment characterized by "solitude, simplicity and beauty." The retreat center, nicely tucked in Nature, is open to people of all faiths and all walks of life, who need a solitary place to reconnect with their own roots in God. Father Eric has lived there for 35 years and worked as a carpenter and plumber to help build the center. Every day, he drinks tea, prays, works, and enjoys nature.
Shumei International Institute is a non-profit organization originated in Japan. The founder, Mokichi Okada, taught that a world free of sickness, poverty, and discord is within everyone’s reach through the spiritual healing of Jyorei, the practice of Natural Agriculture, and the appreciation of Art and Beauty. Jyorei, which means “purification of the spirit,” is a simple yet profound healing art. Our host Matthew Crowley shared the two most important teachings that he learned from Shumei: "Nature teaches us everything." "If you want to be happy, make others happy." Shumei transformed him from a competitive businessman into a spiritual practitioner who is willing to become a channel that transmits light to others.
Chamma Ling Retreat Center preserves ancient Bön Practices, Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition, to restore and to heal the world. Ms. Hanne Strong recommended the soul retrieval retreat offered at this center.
We chanted and circled around the KTTG Stupa. Karma Thegsum Tashi Gomang (KTTG) was founded by His Holiness the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. Stupa is an architectural rendering of the Buddhist path, the stages and aspects of enlightenment. If seen from above, this white Stupa with golden spire on top looks like the eye of this valley. What made this Stupa even more special is that 100,000 miniature stupas made by volunteers were placed inside. Within each miniature stupa is a roll of prayers, and mantras. The 100,000 stupas were all blessed and consecrated by visiting lamas before being placed inside. Although these 100,000 miniature stupas and the prayers inside were invisible to our eyes of flesh from the outside, the noble intention and high consciousness radiate out from the inside and reach the realms far and beyond.
We meditated in Vajra Vidya Retreat Center and were completely charmed by the lighthearted and cheerful teacher Venerable Khenpo Lobzang Tenzin. We tried our conscious drawing after meeting Marika Popovits, who has been expressing realities through paintings within the realms of Consciousness since 1970s. We were mesmerized by Singne Ramstrom's forceful ancient dance at her home studio, where we also had Chinese Chan tea ceremony with the Crestone spiritual community. I missed the meeting with John Milton, one of the founding fathers of the modern environmental movement, a pioneering ecologist, spiritual teacher, vision quest leader and shaman, who founded Way of Nature. I found his twelve guiding principles of natural liberation very helpful tools for practices.
The Cross pollination Among Centers
Ramloti borrowed chopsticks and hot water containers from Shumei Center in order to host us. At the Ashram store, there were James O'Dea's books on display. Marika said she was inspired by one of James O'Dea's poems to paint and James was inspired by her painting to write a poem. Hanne took the vision quest with John Milton after meeting the Prophet Glen Anderson, and John Milton now serves on the board of Manitou Institute. Shumei hosts Crestone's community gathering at their outdoor amphitheater. How much pure joy we experienced when we gave each other Sufi kisses. And William connects with everyone, and everyone seems to connect with everyone else! :) It is a true harmonious spiritual community in Crestone.
As Ms. Hanne Strong said to us, "Nothing will happen in Crestone until original people return. When in great harmony, great things will happen. Our soul and life depend on each other. Anyone who can speak for the land...ask what the land wants. No matter what happens...the truest purpose of humanity will be preserved."